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Hampden selectmen ask politicians to reconsider unfunded mandates

Date: 3/9/2009

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

HAMPDEN -- At the Jan. 29 meeting of the Regional Boards of Selectmen, the officials representing East Longmeadow, Hampden, Longmeadow, Ludlow and Wilbraham discussed how Gov. Deval Patrick's recent budget cuts were going to affect their towns and brainstormed ways to save money without cutting services.

The issue of reconsidering unfunded mandates was brought up by Rick Green, chair of the Hampden Board of Selectmen, at the meeting.

On Feb. 8, the Hampden selectmen sent a letter to Sen. Gale Candaras, Rep. Thomas Petrolati (who were both present at the Regional Board of Selectmen meeting) and Rep. Brian Ashe, highlighting again the need to reconsider some of the state's unfunded mandates.

"Everyone talks about where we're gonna cut," Green told Reminder Publications. "These [mandates] never came up."

The letter states, "We all understand the need for cuts in local aid based on declining State revenues and will do what is fiscally responsible. Along with this responsibility comes the need to look at all of our expenses including these mandates. We then need to have a serious dialogue about what can be eliminated (with the least effect to town services)."

Dana Pixley, the town's Highway Superintendent, came up with five mandates that could be considered, including eliminating or amending the Prevailing Wage Laws so that they could only be applied to projects of more than $100,000 and amending the Department of Environmental Protection regulations regarding what can be done with catch basin materials and allowing municipalities to perform simple tasks, like washing their vehicles on their property, as is allowed for non-profit groups.

Pixley noted that the five unfunded mandates he listed could save the town up to $100,000.

After the letter was sent to local representatives, it was also hand-delivered to Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and his staff during a Feb. 19 visit to Western Massachusetts.

"We haven't heard back from any of the officials we've sent the letter to yet," Hampden Selectman John D. Flynn said, "but we have a very good relationship with our local politicians. We expect a serious response from them."

The selectmen also expect to continue the discussion on this cost-cutting measure at the next Regional Board of Selectmen meeting, scheduled for mid-April in East Longmeadow.

"We will continue to pursue this in a positive way," Green said. "We may not see a change in unfunded mandates in the next fiscal year, but maybe the year after that. We're not saying eliminate them; revisit them."

Green noted that the town of Hampden is still working on its fiscal year 2010 budget, which will combine estimated revenue projections, stabilization fund money and possible cuts to town services.

"The reality of the situation is we want to provide as many town services as we can," Green said. "There are going to be town services; it's a matter of how much the town wants [to fund]."